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I'm new to this SE site and as a geneticist i liked the idea to be able to help newbies and explain simple genetic facts to the community. But after one week following this site activities, I found activity quite low: e.g. 30-40 views max for a question asked 3 days ago. It seems there are not enough reviewers or high rep users here. Most of the time questions are asked by low rep users (which is not bad in itself in my opinion) but the community should help newbies to rephrase questions and add what they have searched before...

Apart from @Remi.b, there seems to be no more high rep users answering or editing questions. I also have the feelings that questions are getting downvoted with no comments on how they could be improved.

I would like to have your feelings about the situation on this site.

EDIT: This General quality of BioSE questions vs other SEs was very interesting, I wasn't aware of all that. I understand now the feeling that whatever you do, OPs won't improve their questions so you are wasting your time.

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    $\begingroup$ There are a few high rep users that answer questions. Most of us, I think I can say, generally answer questions in our field, good ones of which are few and far between. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Mar 2 '18 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ Just to show willing, I've edited your post, correcting the English. There are some other posts on the same theme (e.g. biology.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3439/…). $\endgroup$ – David Mar 8 '18 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3132/… something similar to above for encouraging users? $\endgroup$ – JM97 May 7 '18 at 11:07
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A long comment here really -

First off, you're most active at puzzling. As a scientific stack, answers need to be backed up by references. For sites like puzzling, folks can just take a bash - their bash. On a site like Bio, we also take a bash, but have to find, and cite, the proper sources to back our claims up. Answering here takes effort and time and I dare say it takes more time and more effort than a lot of other stacks around. I have been active at sites like Acedemia.SE and also WorldBuilding. Those sites also expect answers to be good, but still it appears to me to be a lot easier, as one doesn't have to visit Google Scholar, the uni library and PubMed to back up their claims on sites like that.

Having said that - This site is not dead. It may be going through a silent period :)

I can't really speak for all the hi-rep users, but I have the feeling quite a few among us have taken a step back in answering. For one thing, among the four highest rep users, three are mods. Modding takes time and our moderating stats are actually pretty good (flag handling time and so forth). We mods all are active researchers and quite busy with our jobs (traveling the world and stuff). In my case, I would like to answer more, but I really cannot find the time of late. Plus, in my case, I'm also a mod over at CogSci too. The top rep user is Remi and indeed they are really active in answering. Then among a score of 10k+ rep users there are quite a few who are pretty active, but approximately half of them is not active anymore.

This is also apparent in the review queue - in my review pane 64 reviews are open. So yes, apparently hi-rep users are not really active anymore, at least not in reviewing and indeed not so much in answering either.

This was very different at the time we were graduating - many of us were answering and voting like crazy. After our graduation everything has been slacking off a bit I guess.

However, that may change and while a handful of hi-rep users has left the scene entirely, the others are still around and perhaps we just need a bit of time for other users to gain more rep.

In all, this site is anything but dead, but indeed, among a large group of 10k+ users, I guess half of them is not active, or only behind the scenes reviewing and modding.

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    $\begingroup$ I almost started feeling like home here when work attacked me from all directions. Now, it quite hurts me to be unable to take time for my own home (-_-メ) $\endgroup$ – another 'Homo sapien' Mar 5 '18 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ I've certainly reduced my answering. Most of the questions lately in my area have been either very poor, or have come from one or two users that ask a million questions that are technically on-topic here but have little to no appreciation for the answers they get. Most of the shortest answers on Bio.SE still take 30 mins or more to answer, to find a couple appropriate references - I certainly don't have citations memorized for basics in neurophysiology that I know by heart. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Mar 7 '18 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ health.SE is taking a very similar approach. $\endgroup$ – Dave Liu Mar 13 '18 at 3:27
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A short answer to go with @AliceD's long comment:

This doesn't necessarily address the low-traffic problem directly, but as discussed here we've basically ended up with a SE where a large number of relative newcomers ask the questions and a small number of professional biologists answer them.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you can see why it tends to lead to a very bimodal distribution of user reps, and (I would suspect) a lot of users who are relatively inexperienced at how to use StackExchange, and so don't ask 'good' questions, don't take the tour, and sometimes abandon the site when they have an answer without accepting it.

So basically, the current model is one way to run an SE site, but it appeals mainly to new, occasional users rather than professionals. We have a small proportion of regular users, who often don't bother asking technical questions because they're the only experts in their area. We thus have relatively low traffic, a high proportion of low quality questions and a small proportion of users who view and answering questions (and a large proportion of casual users who visit once or twice to ask and not to answer).

I don't want to lose the engagement aspects of the site, but I would like a Biology professionals site in parallel. Until we get that, I think we'll keep seeing proposals for relatively small-community specialist sites; they pop up constantly. There was an ecological statistics proposal a while back that was backed by a medium-sized group of young researchers who weren't willing to use Biology.SE due to the high volume of low-quality posts, but it was killed off as having too much overlap with Biology.SE. Bioinformatics.SE joined the family recently (I don't really understand how that proposal didn't fall foul of the same rule, but for what it's worth I think the ecological statistics one should have survived so I'm happy the bioinformatics one made it).

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  • $\begingroup$ More specialized site(s) would solve a lot of problems I think, but the hard part is attracting users. If anyone starts a site for molecular biology and biochemistry, I'm in. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Mar 7 '18 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer I have a suspicion that such a proposal would be closed as too close to (one view of the intended purpose of) Biology.SE. I've never really got into the underlying SE model so I don't know if this would work, but one way that sounds promising to me would be to recruit a couple of mods specifically to promote/police certain tags (like mol biol), and/or to have a 'professionals' tag, then use a custom filter. $\endgroup$ – arboviral Mar 7 '18 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ The easiest would be to create a 'professionals' tag and then us professional biologists could heavily moderate it, but at one point I proposed a 'troubleshooting' tag to identify problems with experiments (because I liked those, they were usually by professionals and high quality, and were interesting), and was told that tags for qualifying other questions were strongly discouraged, so the 'professional' tag may be dead in the water. $\endgroup$ – arboviral Mar 7 '18 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ Let's just scrap bio and start again ;) $\endgroup$ – canadianer Mar 8 '18 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer Heh - as you say in your first comment though, if the "start again" means multiple more specialised sites, then community size becomes an problem. I think (friendly) policiing of question quality might help, but simultaneously we need better questions. The problem I have is that as a professional scientist I know how to research the answers to any questions I have. Heck, some of my answers on here are on things I knew nothing about until an interesting question motivated me to research it. $\endgroup$ – arboviral Mar 8 '18 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @canadianer regarding starting again with B&MB. Bioinformatics is fairly narrow and managed (although admittedly it is a trendy area). Trouble would be attracting enough professionals. However until you try to break the vicious circle... $\endgroup$ – David Mar 8 '18 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ I honestly dont get the need for more specialized biology sites within the SE-system. You get overlap between them and there is a large change that most of them won't survive (due to a more fragile userbase). Don't like the quality of many questions? Well, don't read them, or only read particular tags. The quality of good questions isn't decreased because they are posted alongside poor Qs. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Mar 18 '18 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater this is based on what is happening and what we're hearing, not what I think (fwiw I agree with you) but the high proportion of low-quality questions means the site isn't seen as a credible place to discuss 'proper' biology, so smaller user groups try to form their own. Shutting down their proposals (as has happened) doesn't do anything to address this underlying problem. $\endgroup$ – arboviral Mar 21 '18 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @arboviral Yes, I definitely agree that this is probably the reason for what is happening. I just dont think that it is a good reason. Credibility comes from individual users in individual topics, so change that from a bottom-up perspective instead. But there seems to be an amount of arrogance involved, as well as the feeling that it is beneath some people to interact with a more "diverse" (to put it nicely) community. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Mar 21 '18 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater Again, I'm not saying I don't recognise that characterisation, but that doesn't get us any closer to fixing the problem (if it is a problem) that users we'd like to attract to the site are avoiding it due to low question quality. That said, if we indulge the more arrogant attitudes we could end up like some other SEs which come across as very unfriendly to new users. $\endgroup$ – arboviral Mar 21 '18 at 13:35
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An occasional problem is active users voting to close perfectly good questions because it's not in their field, and they don't understand the point of the question. Most recent example: Is there a statistical analysis test I can perform that will give me a estimate of total population from my own smaller data sets?, which has been put on hold as "Too broad".

It is not too broad; it is a very specific question focusing on a well-studied problem. It can be answered with pointers to the relevant literature; there is an R package specifically designed for this.

The question is phrased a little awkwardly, but anyone who has even distantly touched on the field should immediately understand the point of the question. It's exactly the sort of thing that SE Biology is designed to answer.

If you're wondering why Biology is fading away, this is one reason: A small handful of users are actively driving away questions from fields they don't understand.

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  • $\begingroup$ A small handful of users are actively driving away questions from fields they don't understand. - I doubt that. The whole problem is people are (close) voting too less. The example you give here is a question that I mod-closed. You say I don't know the field. I don't have to know the field as it is a homework question. I happened to submit the close reason as given by the two other close voters. I represent the community. But to me, it's under researched and a prime example of the low-quality questions that pop up more and more. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 15 '18 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ It is indeed too broad because no prior research is mentioned. And yes, I had to steam through nearly 70 close voted questions in the queue. If people voted more often, mods wouldn't have to mod close questions. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 15 '18 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ I don't have to know the field as it is a homework question. Obviously you do, because this is obviously not a homework question. Perhaps having "steamed through" 70 questions, your judgement was skewed and you were trigger-happy. $\endgroup$ – iayork Mar 15 '18 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps I was. Perhaps not. Homework close voting basically means there's no prior research effort, it doesn't have to be homework per se. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 15 '18 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ I think we agree both on the fact that the core problem is a lack of active hi-rep users. I agree on that one. I'm willing to reopen the question. It's borderline for sure. I'll see to it $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 15 '18 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ I sort of agree with both of you. There are many very poor questions here, some of which get poor answers in turn. Those questions should be close voted. Occasionally it is possible for a question to be closed incorrectly. I have so far found the moderating staff here to be pretty good about assisting with reopening questions that have the potential for a saving answer. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Mar 16 '18 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure the sheer amount of questions answerable by e.g. one quick google search are driving more people away than a tired mod closing somebody's question because they deemed it too vague. $\endgroup$ – Inhibitor Apr 15 '18 at 0:49
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This site should be revamped; and the questions and answers already stored in this site, are treasures to humankind, with great deal of research effort. So all these treasures should be maintained and should be kept available to the public, with due respect to all the content.

Edit: I've changed my opinion about ProfBio, and the site-branching (ProfBio) idea could be a practically useful tool to save the site. So I'm agree with most other users.

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